#anthropology roundup: “Bonobos, Nicest Primates on the Planet, Make Humans Look Like Monsters… 



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Digging Into the Myth of Timbuktu

Sometime around 1 o’clock in the afternoon on April 19, 1828, René Caillié emerged from the dark hull of the slave ship that he had boarded weeks before. Eager to disembark and escape the “prison” that he had uncomfortably shared with bundles of rice, millet, cotton, honey, vegetable butter, and fellow travelers, Caillié mounted the first available canoe and glided toward shore.

This khipu, which was made before the Spanish conquest of the Incas, was probably used for accounting, as indicated by the knots in the cords. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

In July 2015, my husband and I were crammed into a stuffy minivan with 12 others, climbing out of Lima’s coastal mist into the sun-filled mountains thousands of feet above. After hours of dust clouds and dizzying hairpin turns, our destination appeared below—the remote Andean village of San Juan de Collata, Peru. It was a scattering of adobe houses with no running water, no sewage, and electricity for only a couple of homes. The several hundred inhabitants of this community speak a form of Spanish heavily influenced by their ancestors’ Quechua. Arriving at the village felt like entering into another world.


Ahead of the upcoming AAA annual meeting, here’s a roundup of food and policy news from around the globe: In Brazil, an innovative yet controversial new flour made from freeze-dried leftover surplus food receives a blessing from Archbishop of São Paulo. In Ethiopia, legislators are preparing that country’s first-ever national food and nutrition policy;  the stated goal is to improve malnutrition and stunted growth among mothers and children and is in response to a national demographic health survey. In the U.S., Food Policy Action released its scorecard on Congressional activity around food policy including a record of votes taken and bills introduced by Congress on “critically important food issues”; find out how your state did (and sorry, Alabama). Also: Sexual harassment survivors are now coming out against abuses in the restaurant industry; powerhouse New Orleans chef John Besh is embroiled in a series of abuse allegations. Finally, from the “food in nautical archaeology” archive comes newly excavated knowledge about what 17th century British sailors actually ate aboard their voyages (spoiler alert: it wasn’t all hardtack).


In the fall of 1282, a young carpenter went to his favorite stand of juniper trees in southwestern Colorado. That stand contained a large number of tall trees that could be fashioned into construction beams, but it also had spiritual significance as part of a sacred landscape. After saying a prayer, he got to work.

Othered by Anthropology: Being a Student of Color in Anglo-cized Academia

[Anthrodendum welcomes guest blogger Savannah Martin.]

It is both impressive and depressing how frequently scholars of color are Othered by anthropology. For many, the tales of alienation are too numerous to count; we are made to feel strange so regularly that the process becomes disquieting in its familiarity. Sometimes subtly, sometimes conspicuously, all the time we are reminded that we don’t really belong here.

The Untold Story of Japan’s First People

The Ainu, the Indigenous people of Japan, have fought Japanese domination for centuries. As this century unfolds, their efforts are finally paying off. Chris Willson/Alamy Stock Photo

This article is from Hakai Magazine, an online publication about science and society in coastal ecosystems. Read more stories like this at hakaimagazine.com.

About that takedown notice from the AAA

Here we go again. If you’re a member of the American Anthropological Association, you should have received an email this past week (10/17) about avoiding copyright infringement. The message was concise and right to the point: A bunch of members are in violation of their author agreements, and the AAA wants you to take your papers down. Here’s the message in case you missed it:

Basically, the AAA is saying that that more than 1,000 AAA copyrighted articles are in violation of copyright because they have been posted on ResearchGate and Academia.edu. This news is not super shocking, since many of us who publish aren’t particularly informed about the author agreements we sign, let alone how the publishing process works. We just sign those agreements in the rush to publish before we perish…and then sometimes post stuff on commercial sites to make our content “accessible” to the world. Awesome, right? Not so much. This is ultimately to our own detriment.

Watching Ancient Hominins Giving Birth

The movies that Natalie Laudicina makes use the same software that helped create some of the biggest blockbuster hits of the last decade, but her movies won’t be coming to a theater near you. Laudicina, a graduate student in anthropology at Boston University (BU), uses 3-D software to create detailed digital models of the birth canals of primates, from New World monkeys to apes to extinct hominins such as the Australopithecus afarensis known as Lucy.

I first heard about Laudicina’s work when we met in southwest France in 2015 at the excavation of La Ferrassie, a site occupied by Neanderthals from about 100,000 to 45,000 years ago, and, later, by anatomically modern humans. My own work as an archaeologist focuses on some of the reasons why Homo sapiens persisted in Europe, while our close relatives, the Neanderthals, went extinct. Laudicina was at La Ferrassie to gain excavation experience, and as we worked, we talked about our respective subjects. I was fascinated by how the birth studies she was developing might address research questions similar to my own, and when this opportunity to write about her work arose, I contacted Laudicina and arranged a meeting with her to learn more.

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